I had a wonderful time this past Sunday celebrating Mother’s Day with my family. But now that the festivities are over, I can’t help but think of all the expecting and future mothers who could be putting their newborns and their own health at risk by not recognizing the dangers associated with elective Cesarean-section deliveries, especially those performed before 39 weeks of gestation.
Elective C-sections are at an all-time high in the United States, with 1.4 million newborns delivered surgically in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For whatever reason, more women than ever are choosing to schedule C-section deliveries, many before reaching the full 39 week term.
That’s a dangerous trend, considering babies born prematurely are more likely to end up in the NICU, develop lifelong health problems and in too many cases, don’t survive.
The problem is, a majority of first-time mothers are unaware of the risks. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our recent study with Drexel University revealed more than 90 percent of first-time mothers believe it’s safe to deliver a baby before 37 weeks of gestation. Many see no danger in delivering before 38 weeks or even 37 weeks, and 24 percent incorrectly believe full term is reached before 37 weeks. In fact, nearly one in four women surveyed considered a baby to be full-term at 34 to 36 weeks!
The study findings underscore how important education is to improve health and well-being. Other studies have already shown that efforts to educate physicians make a positive impact in helping to reduce the rate of elective pre-term deliveries. We should also consider similar outreach among women to help stem the rise in such deliveries.
The decision to induce labor early or perform a C-section before a pregnancy is full-term should take clinical recommendations into account and reflect the baby’s and mother’s health and medical needs, not convenience. To be sure, the last few weeks of pregnancy for many mothers can seem endless and often uncomfortable. But expectant parents should take the opportunity to learn just how important the last few remaining weeks are for their baby’s development and health.